THE GUPTA PERIOD

The Satavahana acted as a stabilizing factor in the Deccan and south to which they gave political unity and prosperity, after the breakup of Mauryan Empire, the Satavahana and Kushana emerged as two large Political Powers.The Kushanas performed the same role in the north. Both these empires came to an end in the middle of the 3rd century A.D, Kushana power in North India came to an end in about 230 A.D. and after that, a good part of central India fell to Murundas who continued to rule till 250 A.D. The Guptas finally overthrew Kushanas in about 275 A.D On the ruins of the Kushana empire arose a new empire which established its way over a good part of the former dominions of both the Kushanas and the Satavahanas. This was the empire of the Guptas who may have been of vaishya origin. Little is known of the early Guptas; first known ruler was ‘Sri Gupta’ probably ruling over a small portion of north Bengal and South Bihar. He was succeeded by his son Ghatotkacha. Both adopted the title of Maharaja. He married Lichchavi princes Kumara Devi and had her portrait engraved on his coins.

9.1 Chandragupta I (319-335 A.D.)

Chandragupta was the first Gupta king who minted silver coins after defeating Saka satraps of Ujjain and also in the name of his queen and the Lichchhavi nation. Chandragupta-I seems to have been a ruler of considerable importance because he started Gupta Era in A.D. 319-20 which marked the date of his accession. He emphasized his power and prestige by marrying Kumara Devi, Princess of the Lichchhavi nation of Nepal. He acquired the title of Maharajadhiraj.

9.2 Samudragupta (335-375 A.D.)

Samudragupta (335-380 A.D.), called the ‘Napoleon of India’ by Vincent Smith, enlarged the Gupta Kingdom enormously. The Allahabad pillar inscription composed by Harisena, his court poet enumerates the people and countries that were conquered by Samudragupta, which had been divided into 5 groups. 12 Kings were defeated in course of Samudragupts’s dakshinapath campaign, who reached as far as Kanchi and Pallava ruler Vishnugupta was compelled to recognise his suzerainty. But he reinstated all the 12 kingdoms as tributary states. Virasen was the army commander in the famous Southern campaign of Samudragupta. In Allahabad inscription Samudragupta describes him as the hero of hundred battles. In one of his coins he called himself ‘Lichchhavi duhitra’ (daughter’s son of the Lichchhavis).

He performed Asvamedha Yajna to claim imperial title and struck gold coins of yupa type to commemorate the occasion. He maintained the tradition of religious toleration, granted permission to Buddhist king of Cylon, Meghavarman to build a monastry at Bodh Gaya; so, he was called ‘Anukampavav’. He was a great patron of art, adopted the title of ‘Kaviraja’. Poets like Harisena and Vasubandhu adorned his court; on some gold coins he was shown playing the Veena. On one of the coins Samudragupta is represented as playing flute. He also patronized the Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu and studied Buddhism under him. Though a follower of the Brahmannical religion and follower of Vasudeva, he was tolerant towards other faiths. He received a missionary from the ruler Meghavarman of Sri Lanka, seeking his permission to build a Buddhist temple at Gaya, which he granted.

9.3 Chandragupta II (380-413 A.D.)

Samudragupta was succeeded by Ramgupta but Chandragupta II killed him and married his queen Dhruvadevi. Chandragupta II was also a great conqueror like his father and his reign saw the high water mark of the Gupta Empire. Mehrauli Iron pillar inscription claims his authority over North- Western India and a good portion of Bengal. Chandragupta II’s daughter Prabhavati was married to the Vakataka King, Rudrasena II who died very soon. The sea-borne trade with Europe brought Chandragupta II in close contact with Europe through Egypt. Chandragupta is represented as killing a lion on his coins unlike his father who is shown killing a tiger.

Though Fa-hien (the Chinese pilgrim) travelled extensively in Chandragupta’s empire and records the prosperity during this time, it is interesting to note that the Chinese pilgrim never recorded the name of the king because he was totally pre- occupied with the study of Buddhism. Chandragupta II Vikramaditya was the first among the Gupta kings to issue gold coins.

  • These coins were modelled on the silver coins issued by the Sakas of western and central India. Virasena’s Udyagiri cave inscription refers to his conquest of the whole world.
  • He defeated the last of the Saka ruler Rudra Simha III and annexed the territories of western Malwa and Gujarat. He was also called ‘Vikramaditya’. He also took the title of Simhavikrama. Chandragupta II made Ujjain the second capital of the empire.
  • He strengthened the empire by matrimonial alliance, married his daughter Prabhavati to a Vakataka Prince Rudrasena II, he himself married a Naga princes ‘Kuber Naga’.
  • He was also a man of art and culture, his court at Ujjain was adorned by ‘Navratna’, including Kalidasa, Amarsinha, Fa-hien, Acharya Dinganaga, etc. Virasena was the Court Poet and Minister of Chandragupta II.
  • Fa-hien, the Chinese traveller, came during the time of Chandragupta II.

9.4 Kumaragupta I (413-455 A.D.)

He assumed the title of Mahendraditya, Founded the Nalanda University. He was a worshipper of Lord Kartikeya (son of Lord Shiva). Kumargupta I introduced a new type of coins of gold, one of them figures the God Kartikeya ridding on his peacock on the reverse, and the king feeding a peacock on the obverse.

The first Huna attack took place during Kumargupta I, He was very old that time. The aged Kumargupta died when the crown prince was still in the field in A.D. 454 or 455. Kumargupta performed Asvamedha sacrifices, but we do not know of his any military success, though he maintained the vast empire intact.

Towards the close of his reign, the empire was attacked by the Pushyamitra tribe. By 485 A.D. the Hunas occupied eastern Malwa and a good portion of Central India. Although the Huna power was soon overthrown by Yasodharman of Malwa, the Malwa prince successfully challenged the authority of the Guptas and set up pillars of victory commemorating his conquest of almost the whole of Northern India.

9.5 Skandagupta (455-467 A.D.)

One of the gold coins of the king Skandagupta depicts the king as standing with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other with a Garuda standard in front of him. To his right is Goddess Laxmi facing the king with a lotus in her hand, He restored the Sudarshana Lake. Skandagupta repulsed the ferocious Hunas twice; this heroic feat entitled him to assume the title of Vikramaditya. Sakandagupta’s successors proved to be weak and could not resist the Huna invaders, who excelled in horsemanship and possibly used stirrups made of metal.

Fall of the Gupta Empire:

The weak successors of Skandagupta could not check the growing Huna power and feudatories rose in Bihar, Bengal, M.P., Vallabhi, etc. Mihirkula was the most famous Huna King. Hieun Tsang mentions him as a fierce persecutor of Buddhism. He was defeated by Yashodharman, one of the feudatories of the Guptas in Malwa. Later Guptas of Magadha established their power in Bihar, alongside them the Maukharies rose to power in Bihar and U.P. with their capital at Kannauj, the Maitrakas of Vallabhi established their authority in Gujarat and Western Malwa. In North India the Pushyabhutis of Thaneshwar established their power in Haryana and they gradually moved to Kannauj. The Gupta state may have found it difficult to maintain a large professional army on account of the growing practice of land grants for religious and other purposes, which was bound to reduce their revenues. Their income may have further been affected by the decline of foreign trade. Loss of Western India deprived the Guptas of rich revenues from trade and commerce and crippled them economically.

The migration of a guild of silk weavers from Gujarat to Malwa in A.D. 473 and their adoption of non-productive professions show that there was not much demand for silk.

Decline of trade led to decay of towns, the post- Gupta period witnessed the ruin of many old commercial cities.

The later Guptas, though they ruled in Magadha till about the eight-century, were not genealogically connected to the Imperial Guptas.

Trade and Economy:

Kalidasa gives good description of the market towns. The volume of trade with China greatly increased during Gupta period and the Chinese silk was called ‘Chinansuka’ in India.

•          Indian muslin was said to have created a great demand in the city of Rome.

•          At Kaveripattinam, the Yavana section of the city overflowed with prosperity.

•          At Arikamedu, a sizeable Roman settlement and a Roman factory was discovered (it was known for Muslin).

•          Barygaza or Broach was the largest port on the western coast.

•          Glass production started in the Gupta period.

•          Indian embassies visited the Roman Empire in the reigns of Aurelian, Constantine, Julian, and Justinian, and Alexandria became an important meeting place for the inhabintants and traders of India and Rome.

•          Varahmihira paid tribute to Greek astronomers by saying that they deserve as much respect as our own rishis.

•          Indians were the first in the world to advocate the internal use of mercury. It is mentioned by Varahmihira along with iron. The Indian surgeon performed lithotomy and could remove the external matter accidentally introduced into the body e.g. iron, stones, etc.

•          Gold coins were called Dinars and silver coins were called Rupyakas.

Political Organization:

•          In contrast to the Mauryas, the Gupta kings adopted pompous titles such as ‘Parmeshwar’ ‘Maharajadhiraja’ and ‘Param-bhattaraka’ which signify that they ruled over lesser kings in their empire.

•          Element of divinity in kingship; kings compared with different gods and were looked upon as Vishnu, the protector and preserver.

•          Kingship was hereditary, but royal power was limited by the absence of a firm practice of primogeniture.

•          Council of ministers existed; evidence of one man holding several posts like Harisena and posts becoming hereditary.

•          The most important officers were Kumaramatyas.

•          The empire was divided into ‘Bhukti’ placed under the charge of an ‘Uparika’.

•          Bhuktis were divided into districts placed under the charge of ‘Vishaypati’.

•          The sub-districts were called ‘Peth’ and the villages were under ‘Gramika’ or ‘Mahattar’.

•          The Guptas did not maintain a vast bureaucracy like that of the Mauryas.

•          ‘Kumaramatyas’ were the most important officers who were appointed by the king in the home provinces.

•          Chariots receded into the background and cavalry came to the forefront.

•          In judicial system, for the first time civil and criminal laws were clearly defined and demarcated.

•          The most salient feature of the Gupta rule is personal liberty. The people were left largely to follow their own ideas and pursue their own intentions.

•          The Vakataka empire in the Deccan was more centralized and united than the Satavahanas, though the Vakatakas continued the same administrative system and practices as it was during the Satavahanas.

•          In the Gupta period land taxes increased in number, and also those on trade and commerce.

•          A large part of the empire was administered by feudatories, many of whom had been subjected by Samudragupta.

•          The second important fedual development in administration was the grant of fiscal and administrative concessions to priests and administrators. Salary was not paid in cash.

•          Religious functionaries were granted land called ‘Agarhara’, free of taxes for ever, and they were authorised to collect from peasants all taxes, which could have otherwise gone to the emperor.

•          Land revenue was about 1/7 of the produce payable either in cash or kind.

Social Organization

•          The Aryan pattern of society based on ‘Varnashram Dharma’ made its final assertion. Land grants to Brahmanas suggest Brahaman supremacy.

•          Caste proliferated into numerous sub-castes, firstly, as a result of assimilation of a large number of foreigners into Indian society, and secondly due to absorption of many tribal people in Brahmanical society through process of land grants.

•          Though women were idealized in literature, mother goddesses were worshipped, but in reality they were accorded lower postion viz. pre-puberty marriage, denial of education, treated as an item of property, etc. Though they were allowed to listen to the Epics and the Puranas, like the Shudras.

•          The position of the Shudra somewhat improved but number of untouchables and the practice of untouchability increased.

•          The first example of Sati came from Eran of 510

A.D. Sati system was very rare in the Gupta period, almost the only recorded instance in the age being that of the Goparaja’s wife in A.D. 510. came to light from Eran (M.P.).

•          The Vakataka period (roughly from about A.D. 250-250) coincided with the most creative period of Mahayana Buddhism.

•          Nagarjuna established the Shunyavada philosophy, he infused a new life into Buddhism and helped the eventual development of the Advaita school in the Hindu Vedanta.

•          It is very likely that Kaildasa lived for some time in the Vakataka court, as a part of the ‘Meghadduta’ must have been composed there.

•          Patanjali tells us that the maidservant and the shudra women were meant for satisfying the pleasure of upper classes.

Religion

•          Many legal text books were written during this period such as the Bhagwad Gita, Yajnavalkaya Smriti, Narada Smriti, Brihaspati Smriti, etc.

•          Hinduism acquired its present shape, Brahma, Vishnu & Mahesh emerged as the supreme deity.

•          Devotional Hinduism got perfection and Bhagvatism became more popular, centred round the worship of Vishnu or Bhagvat. History was presented as a cycle of 10 incarnations of Vishnu.

•          Theory of Karma and idea of Bhakti and Ahimsa became the foundation of Bhagvatism.

•          Idol worship in the temples became a common feature.

•          Concept of incarnations or Avatara of Vishnu preached.

•          Various female deities such as Durga, Amba, Kali, Chandi, etc. came to be regarded as mother goddesses.

•          Four ends of life were enumerated-Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, first three collectively called ‘Triverga’

•          Six schools of philosophy were perfected.

•          Buddhism no longer received royal patronage in the Gupta period.

•          Fa-hien has given the impression that this religion was in flourishing state.

•          But really it was not so important in the Gupta period as it was in the days of Ashoka and Kanishka.

Science and Technology:

•          Gupta period is unparalleled for its achievements in the field of mathematics and astronomy.

•          Brahmagupta in 7th century developed rules for- operating with zero and negative quantities, he began to apply algebra to astronomical problems. He wrote Brahmasphutic Siddhanta in which he hinted at the law of gravitation.

•          Prominent astronomers were Aryabhatta and Varahamihira. Aryabhatta was the first astronomer who wrote Arya-bhattiyam, found the causes of lunar and solar eclipses, calculated the circumference of the earth in Suryasiddhanta, which is still almost correct.

•          Aryabhatta described the value of first nine numbers and the use of zero in Aryabhattiyam. He also calculated the value of pie and invented Algebra

•          He was first to reveal that the Sun is stationary and the earth revolves round it.

•          Varahamihira’s w ell-known work was ‘Brihatsamhita’, it stated that the Moon rotates round the Earth and the Earth rotates round the Sun.

•          He also wrote ‘Panch Siddhantika’ which gives the summary of five astronomical books current in his time.

•          Romaka Siddhanta, a book on astronomy was also compiled and was perhaps influenced by Greek ideas.

•          Vagbhatta was the most distinguished physician of the ayurvedic system of medicine.

•          Palakapya wrote Hastyagarved, a treatise on the diseases of elephants.

•          Dhanvantri was famous for Ayurveda knowledge.

Literature

•          Sanskrit language and literature made much headway during this period. This was the language of scholars.

•          From this time onward we find greater emphasis on verses than prose.

•          Although we get a good deal of Brahmanical religious literature, the period also produced some of the earliest pieces of secular literature.

•          The greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist of the Gupta age was Kalidasa, his important works were-Meghdutam, Abhijana Shakuntalam, Kumarsambhava, Raghuvamsa, Ritusamhara, Malvikagnimitra, etc.

•          Vishakhadatta produced the ‘Mudrarakshasa’ and the ‘Devichandraguptam’.

•          Apart from Kalidasa others were Sudraka who authored Mrichchakatikam, Bharavi wrote Kiratarjunia, Dandin’s Kavyadarshana and Dasakumaracharita. To this period belong the  13 plays written by Bhasa. Most famous was Charudatta.

•          Vishnu Sharma wrote Panchatantra and Hitopdesh.

•          All the literary works of this period were comedies and character of higher and lower classes did not speak the same language: women and shudra featuring in these plays used Prakrit.

•          Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata along with various Puranas and Smrities were finally compiled.

•          Amarsimha wrote ‘Amarkosha’.

Art and Architecture

•          The Gupta craftsmen distinguished themselves by their work in iron and bronze. Several bronze images of the Buddha were produced.

•          In the case of iron objects, the best example is the famous Iron pillar found at Mehrauli. It has withstood rain and weather for centuries without rusting.

•          This period marks the beginning of temple architecture.

•          Dasavatara temple at Deogarh in Jhansi is the finest square temple with a low and squat shikhara (tower) above.

•          The temple at Bhitargaon near Kanpur is made of brick.

•          Phenomenal development in sculptural representation of divinities at its best. Best example is provided by the stone sculpture of Naranarayan from Dasvatara temple, Deogarh.

•          Metal sculpture of a high degree is testified by the over two metre high bronze image of Buddha recovered from Sultanganj near Bhagalpur.

•          Gupta stone sculptural art was related to the Mathura school.

•          Painting reached its zenith with regard to aesthetic and technical standard as is furnished by the Ajanta Painting.

•          Their themes were borrowed from Jataka stories

i.e. previous incarnations of Buddha and from other secular source— ‘dying princes’, ‘Mother and Child etc.

•          Buddha sitting in Dharma Chakra mudra belongs to Sarnath and the Buddha images of Bamiyan, Afghanistan belong to the Gupta period.

•          Images of Vishnu, Shiva and some other Hindu gods featured for the first time in this period.

•          The Ajanta painters excelled in the depiction of human and animal figures.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply